The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio recording
Please pray with me. O God of Light, from whom every good gift comes, send your spirit into our lives and, by the flame of your wisdom, open the horizons of our minds; loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words; and to go beyond speech, praising you in the silence deep within our hearts. Amen.
Every morning in this Cathedral, beginning at 6 am, my Cathedral colleagues, the sextons, arrive at the Cathedral and begin their work to prepare this house of prayer for all people to receive whomever and whatever God will send our way that day. And at that hour of the morning, it’s dark outside. The lights in the nave are dim. It’s still; it’s quiet; it’s expectant. And if you see one of my colleagues working in the nave at a distance, at first glance it may look like they’re simply sweeping or merely mopping. But there’s actually something much more profound going on. The sextons of this Cathedral are people of deep and abiding faith and they know that their ministry is to help prepare and make ready this sacred space so that all who enter may experience the sacred and the holy through their ministry and gifts of love and grace.
When you see one of them buffing the floor they do so so that it gets the highest shine to reflect the light of Christ with the greatest effect. When you see them filling our votive candle bays—all 450 candles—every morning, they do so knowing that at some point in the day someone’s going to come and light a candle and lift up a prayer to God. When you see them position a wooden table on this platform and arrange it “just so,” they do so because a few hours later in the day the Lord’s table will be set and the holy food and drink of God will be brought forward, blessed, broken, and given away extravagantly out of God’s great love for all who would seek to receive that gift. And I can assure you that my friends the sextons have been very, very busy in preparations the last few weeks for all the services that we are having over the course of this Christmas season. And this morning at 6 am they were very, very busy preparing to welcome and receive you and me.
On this twenty-third of December I would ask you, how are your Christmas preparations going? Some of you, many of us, I think would respond, “The Christmas tree’s up and decorated, the Christmas cards are sent—or for those of us who are a little “last minute” like myself—you’re busy getting your electronic e-cards and pushing the send button. Food has been purchased, cookies made, cakes baked, plane tickets, train tickets bought; your cars full of gas. You’ve been very, very busy, I’m sure, preparing for Christmas. But I would invite you to consider, in terms of preparation, that busyness does not equate to readiness.
What are you doing to prepare your own personal house of prayer, your internal mansion of mind, body, and spirit to receive the greatest gift God gave humankind in taking on human flesh—being born and dwelling and living among us? In your own house of prayer, what needs to be swept away, mopped up, mended, tidied up, tossed out to make room to receive that extraordinary gift? We don’t have to be perfect. As a matter of fact, I think that when we are our most vulnerable God finds us most irresistible. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. Everything has a crack in it. That’s how the light gets in.” We all have cracks that when we open ourselves up to the light of Christ to heal us, to renew us, to restore us, to redeem us, to empower us, that is a great and unsurpassed gift.
In this season of Christmas we can look around us and see that there have been dark moments in our country in the last few months between hurricane Sandy and then, more recently, the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We are called to respond. And when we let the light of Christ into our house of prayer we can better see who we are called to be and how we are called to respond. This Cathedral community, in response to hurricane Sandy, shipped hundreds of blankets and backpacks to those who were affected by the storm. In response to the tragedy in Newtown our dean and our bishop have called this community of faith—and all communities of faith—to a call to action to join together to try to do something, finally, about gun violence and mental health reform.
We are called to respond, living into the light of Christ that abides in each one of us. And sometimes it’s as simple as looking at someone or something that’s right in front of us. I read a meditation in Forward Day by Day about a family that was taking a trip in the northeast and they visited a very large church and this family had three small children and the five year-old son asked his dad if he could light a votive candle. And the father looked at the sign that said “Suggested donation: one dollar.” And he counted the kids and he looked at their budget and knew that their budget was too tight to accommodate that. And so he told his son, “No.” Later on that trip they came to this Cathedral and they were enjoying the Cathedral and the father looked up and could see in the distance, to his horror, his five year-old son systematically lighting every candle in the votive bay—there are fifty candles in each votive bay. And he started to run with horror to his son. And then he saw an amazing thing: the priest who was on duty picked up the young boy so he could reach up and light all the candles on the top row. When the father got there the priest had just set the boy down. Ashen-faced, the father was reaching for his wallet and he said, “Father how much do we owe you?” And, God bless this priest, he said, “Not a cent. The joy on your son’s face as he lit each candle and gave God thanks for someone or something in his life was the perfect offering for this day.”
Sometimes I think all we’re called to do is lift someone else up so they can reach the light. In a few minutes we are all going to have the opportunity to light candles. When you do, I invite you to open wide the cracks in each one of us to let the life-giving light of Christ fill you in every dark space too. And as you do that, hold in your own thoughts and prayers someone or something in your life that you’d like to bring out of the darkness into the light. And then take that light out into the world that so desperately needs to hear the good news that nothing did, nothing can, nor will anything ever be able to overcome the light of Christ. Amen.